Security threat to US, UK in Azerbaijan

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BAKU, Oct 29 (Reuters) Azerbaijan detained a group of militant Islamists preparing an armed attack near the US embassy in Baku, the security ministry of the former Soviet state said today.

''Several people belonging to a Wahhabi group have been detained.

They were planning terrorist attacks near the US embassy in Baku,'' National Security Ministry spokesman Arif Babayev told Reuters.

Wahhabism originated in Saudi Arabia in the 18th century. It is rooted in the idea of restoring Islam's purity by purging it of its foreign and corrupting influences, and is associated in the West with Islamic extremists.

Britain closed its diplomatic office in Baku today because of security concerns, and the US moved its embassy to limited operations.

''The embassy is closed due to some local security concerns.

The situation will be kept under review,'' a spokeswoman for the British embassy said.

A spokesman for the US embassy said: ''The embassy has gone to limited operations in connection with a threat against the embassy.'' Both embassies said they could not comment on the nature of the threat and would give no further details.

Azerbaijan is an oil-producing, mainly Muslim republic of eight million people on the western shore of the Caspian Sea, wedged between Iran, Turkey and Russia.

Authorities there have in the past years arrested dozens of people suspected of links to Islamist militants, but the country has no history of militant violence against Western targets.

Reuters GT GC2211

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